March 3, 2019, Glory Moments – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
To listen to this sermon, click here: Z0000122
People always say that brides look “radiant”. No bride ever looks ugly or dull or commonplace on her wedding day, not only because she is all dressed up like a bakery cake with lace and flowers, but also because she is all lit up from the inside. She is full of joy, and hope, and expectation, and a little dose of nerves, and she just absolutely glows. The groom generally looks pretty radiant, too, though the bride seems to get most of the attention.
It’s in that kind of special moment that we generally like to take pictures of people. We take pictures at weddings and graduations; we take pictures of new parents holding their first child or new grandparents holding their first grandchild; we take pictures of our toddler taking her first steps or our 6-year-old all dressed up for the bus on his first day of school. We take pictures in all of our “glory moments”. And the reason we do that, is so that we can hold onto the joy that we experienced. We paste our pictures into albums or tuck them into our wallets. We frame them and hang them on the wall along the staircase.
And if Peter had had a camera or a smartphone with him, when Jesus brought him and James and John up onto the mountaintop on the day we just read about, that is exactly what he would have done. He would have gotten some candid shots of Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah, a nice group photo. Because just like we all do, Peter wanted to preserve that “glory moment” before it all faded away. Just as Moses and Elijah were about to leave – and we don’t know what that meant, exactly; whether they were floating up into the air or just dissolving away like fog in the morning sun – however it happened, Peter could see that the moment was passing, and he had that human urge, the urge we all have, to stop time, and to hold onto it.
“It’s a good thing we’re here, Lord,” he babbled, not really knowing what to say, “Look, we can make three shrines, right here on this spot: one for you, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Let’s capture the moment.
But the thing about all glory moments: weddings and births, graduations and transfigurations, is that they are never really about the moment itself. They are always about what comes after. The joy of a wedding is all about looking forward to life together. The joy of a new baby is all about watching this new person grow up. The joy of a graduation is in the expectation of a whole life that lies ahead. The real joy in any glory moment lies in what lies ahead. There is not much joy in the picture of a wedding that has ended in divorce. There is mostly grief in the picture of a child who didn’t live to grow up.
We take the pictures, we feel a longing to hold onto the moment, but we can never keep from having to travel back down the mountain, and getting back to the living of our lives. But here’s the thing: what is so important about our glory moments is not what we see before they fade – because the moment always fade away. What is so important about our glory moments is how we are changed by them, how they transform our lives.
Think of all those moments you have preserved in your photo albums – weddings, births, graduations, first steps. Each one of those experiences is something that changes our lives forever. If you and your spouse had never gotten married, if your children had never been born, if any of those moments had not happened, our whole lives would have been different. We would not have become who we are today. And in the same way, it was because Peter and James and John saw Jesus, revealed in that moment of glory, on the mountaintop that day, that they became who they became. From simple, uneducated fishermen they grew to be pillars of the Church, witnesses to the world, martyrs for the faith. This moment on the mountaintop was a turning point in their lives.
And so, what about us? We read this story of the Transfiguration every year on the last day of the Epiphany season. Most of us probably know it by heart. It is as familiar to us as the old photographs of our parents’ wedding day, those grainy old black-and-white pictures we’ve seen a thousand times, until we can point to every person and name them: Uncle Bill, Aunt Martha, Mom’s old school roommate, Dad’s big brother. And our Mom and Dad looking so amazingly young and happy and beautiful. But just like an old photograph, when we read the gospel stories, even though they are so familiar to us, we often don’t feel that we are a part of them. We weren’t there on the mountaintop. That was a long, long time ago. And anyway, it wasn’t our glory moment; it was the glory moment of our Lord. It was the glory moment of those old Bible heroes, Peter, and James, and John.
But hear what Paul had to say today in his second letter to the Corinthians – Paul, who just like us, was a day late and a dollar short when it came to following Jesus. Unlike all the other apostles, the official Twelve, Paul didn’t come to know Jesus until after his transfiguration, after his crucifixion, after his resurrection, in fact, not until after Jesus had gone back to the Father. And for that very reason, Paul can speak with real authority when he tells us that we are not left out of the picture. “All of us,” Paul wrote, “ALL of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, we are all being transformed from one degree of glory to another.” He’s using the image of Moses here, whose face was literally shining when he came down the mountain after he spoke with God, so that he had to wear a veil to hide it.
“When we turn to the Lord,” Paul says, and he is referring specifically to Jesus, “when we turn to Jesus, the veil is removed, because the Lord is the Spirit.” Every single person who has received the Spirit of Jesus Christ – which is what happened to us at our baptism, and continues to happen to us as we follow Jesus – becomes a reflector of that same divine glory that struck Peter and James and John with awe and fear up on the mountaintop, and that changed their lives when they came back down. Jesus gave his Spirit to us, Paul tells us, and that means that we are all in that picture. It means that you are in that picture. Because you have received the Spirit of Christ, that means that his glory is revealed to you, just as surely as it was revealed to Peter and James and John.
But it isn’t a moment we can hold onto. It’s not something we can capture in a snapshot or preserve in some kind of shrine. We all have our own personal “mountaintop” moments when our faith, when God himself, is suddenly real and present and certain to us. Maybe it’s at a retreat, maybe it’s in the middle of the night — maybe it’s even on an actual mountaintop, where it seems like you can see the whole beautiful world spread out below. But every time, when we come back to earth, when we return to life as usual, the glory, the excitement, fades away. Sometimes that feels really sad, or frustrating, and just like Peter, we want more than anything to hold onto our experience. We want to stay right there and not go back down the mountain. But what we need to remember is that that isn’t an end. Just like our wedding day, or the birth of a child, or a graduation day, those glory moments are the beginnings of something new, the beginnings of being transformed, the beginning of growing up a little more into the likeness of our Lord, from one degree of glory to another, as Paul puts it.
And so, I would like to put in a good word in closing, for growing old. We live in a culture that worships youth and beauty as if they were gods and godesses. We present-day Americans are the A number one professionals when it comes to holding onto our glory moments. We capture our Kodak moments and we plaster our social media with pictures of our shiningest moments, our youth, our great beginnings – as if by posting them on facebook or instagram we could stay there, and preserve them forever. We like happy, we like strong, we like beautiful, we like young. And we hold onto those things with all our might and main, as if we could stop time altogether if we just had the right attitude and enough moisturizer. Because the one thing we don’t like is getting old.
As a people, we have largely forgotten, or we never understood in the first place, that the glory of youth is not a thing in and of itself. The glory of youth is that it is the beginning of growing up, and even of growing old. Youth is only the beginning of becoming who we were created to be. We have forgotten that true beauty and strength are not found when we are at our most youthful, when we’re at the top of our game, but rather when we come, at the end of a long and faithful walk with God, to reflect the perfect glory of Jesus Christ.
Think of the godly men and women you have known. Look around at the empty places in the pews where we still see those beloved faces – Joan and Harriett, Dot and Ruth, Alice and Barb. They would have been the first to say that the beauty of their youth had faded away. But we could all see what was so much more beautiful in them – the radiance of God’s love and kindness and wisdom and patience, the glory of the Lord, reflected as though in a mirror. It should be our ambition and our delight to follow them, letting go of the fading glory that lies behind us, and pressing onward to the glory that lies ahead.
It would be foolish and it would be false to say that there was anything easy or romantic or even comfortable in that ambition. Shirley likes to tell me that growing old is not for wimps, and I am sure that’s putting it mildly. Growing old is hard, and it is painful. Growing old means having to let go of so many of the things we would like to have held onto. I visit Al, and Helen and I visit the people at the nursing home in Canton, and we can see them wasting away outwardly, month by month. But the promise is that when the glory of this world has faded at last, that will just be the beginning of the new, unfading, and incorruptible life that is waiting for us.